A TRUE captain’s innings by centurion Sean Williams proved to be the cornerstone for Zimbabwe’s thumping first Test win over Afghanistan on Wednesday.
But for Winston Weeks – a respected British cricket agent and lifelong supporter of the game in Zimbabwe – his prediction is also being proven true with each passing outing that fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani would return to the international stage from an English County Championship stint as a genuine match-winner.
Speaking in November 2019, Weeks declared that the 6ft-6n pacer “will be 10 times a better bowler” when he returned to the Zimbabwean side.
Muzarabani had put his international career on hold after signing for county side Northamptonshire in September 2018 on a three-year Kolpak contract.
The 24-year-old quick would however make an early comeback to international cricket following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, a move that nullified Kolpak deals, at the end of 2020.
Upon his arrival from the UK, Muzarabani was drafted into Zimbabwe’s squad for a white-ball tour of Pakistan at the end of 2020 and the right-arm paceman immediately showed a glimpse of his quality on a trip that the African side were particularly competitive in the ODI series.
Then this week in their first officially recognised Test match against Afghanistan, Zimbabwe opening bowler Muzarabani starred with the ball to complement skipper Williams’ workmanlike first-innings century of 105 as the Africans completed a 10-wicket annihilation of the Afghans inside two days in Abu Dhabi.
Muzarabani finished with figures of 4-48 and 2-14 in only his second Test match appearance, drawing enormous praise from his Barbados-born mentor, Weeks, who took the towering pace bowler under his wing when the young Zimbabwean was in England.
“The one thing Zimbabwe have to say is it’s nice to have Blessing back, because now they have a weapon,” Weeks told The NewsHawks from the UK on Wednesday.
“When you have a weapon opening the bowling, it makes some big difference, especially someone who can bowl fast, you know, someone who get to create bounce with the new ball. When you have a weapon, you win Test matches. This has put a different dynamic to Zimbabwe cricket, the return of Blessing, no doubt about it. He is the number one man, and they have to treat him well, look after him, because he makes a big difference to the team.”
Weeks, a former club cricketer, said Muzarabani learned a great deal from being in the most professional domestic cricket set-up in the world.
“The professionals at the club (Northamptonshire) were established international players,” remarked Weeks. “You can only learn from these players how to behave and how to carry yourself.
“He (Muzarabani) was very disciplined living in Northamptonshire. To be a good professional you have to know how to behave and how to treat people – have time for people when they approach you. The people of Northamptonshire loved him because he was approachable. His bowling improved by watching his professional colleagues alongside him.
“He could go into the indoor school everyday and work on his bowling and his batting. His attitude changed because he is now a professional player, and he thinks like one. But the most important thing is to stay humble.”
While Muzarabani has brought a new dimension to Lalchand Rajput’s team, Weeks opined that the return of the experienced seamer Kyle Jarvis to the side, who was sidelined by illness for the ongoing Afghanistan series, will give a more rounded look to Zimbabwe’s fast bowling attack.
“Jarvis is a seasoned professional so it will be good for Blessing,” said Weeks. “Jarvis has done well in county cricket, he knows the game. It is always good to learn from someone who is experienced. Bowlers work in partnerships, and Blessing loves to learn.”
Weeks developed an affinity for Zimbabwe after he played and coached club cricket in the African country in the 1980s and in much later years he has facilitated contracts for local players in leagues across England.
The naturalised Englishman also reserved some praise for some members of Zimbabwe’s first Test-winning team in Abu Dhabi, including the 20-year-old prodigy Wesley Madhevere who was dismissed for a duck on his debut Test.
“You know, young Wesley is a good player, he will get runs, no doubt about that, he’s got quite a good technique,” commented Weeks.
“Victor (Nyauchi), the seamer who also took six wickets, bowled really well, he bowled a disciplined line. But the other thing you have to say is the captain stood out. Sean Williams was brilliant, because that innings was what set up the whole thing for the Zimbabwe team to win. Him, and Regis (Chakabva), the wicketkeeper, that partnership was excellent (Chakabva played a cameo innings of 44). So that laid the foundation for the win. And then the boys came out in the second innings and bowled well again. They got wickets at the right time, and that is good.”
The second and final Test between the two teams will begin next Wednesday at the same venue, Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
“They (Zimbabwe) mustn’t rest on their laurels,” warned Weeks.
“You have to remember, you’re only as good as your last win, so they have to go up a gear, and do the same thing again. Even better now, because Afghanistan will come out hard. Because, you have to remember, they might have (star spinner) Rashid Khan back, and that will make a very big difference to their team. He is a top-class bowler, one of the best, so Zimbabwe are going to have to be very careful. But anyway, it was a team performance in the first Test and it is good to see the Zimbabwean team happy. The team is looking really good. I can see the delight on all the players, the staff, everybody, it’s good to see. That’s what I like to see, a happy camp. So, don’t forget we have got another Test match to come. But at this moment in time, get them a little praise and, remember, this is only one Test match gone, so you have to step up to the plate again.”